“I am Beautiful” was difficult for her to drum on

“I am Beautiful” was difficult for her to drum on

excerpt: “History of the Groove, Drummer’s story” Russell Buddy Helm ©2013 all rights reserved

2000. “I am Beautiful” was difficult for her to drum on, but it was no doubt part of the issues that brought her to Seasons, our gift store/drumming therapy center on Montana Avenue in Santa Monica. She was a pretty woman in her early thirties with flawless white, almost porcelain skin; in the model of the Dutch masters  paintings. She confessed to being diagnosed with OCD; Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Her therapist was a friend of ours and had been treating this woman for seven years. She had not had any real social life in that time. She told her story to me as she gently hit the drum sitting in front of her. I had long since given up comparing people’s conditions because one person’s tragedy can be another one’s minor irritant; it is in the perspective that we make the meaning of the event. In this woman’s case, she did not have brutish trauma incident’s, maybe an overbearing parent might have set the stage for this condition, but the solution was usually the same; the steady heartbeat of the drum coupled with a reassuring affirmation or release goes a long way to alleviate their discomfort. Rhythmically reprogramming our belief system is a nonintellectual method of getting on with the good things in our lives.

She blushed when I suggested, “I am beautiful” as a drumming affirmation. Often I suggest something just to prime their pump, and get their own imagination going. She reluctantly drummed on it; moving her hands lightly back and forth on the downbeat, getting a deep tone to vibrate up through her body as she repeated the phrase, “I am beautiful…I am beautiful..” Over and over she repeated, sending the concept deep into her own psyche. Her eyes closed and she let the trance take her to a  place of peace and acceptance as the tempo slowed down. I have taken the old Rhythm and Blues axiom of ‘Laying back the tempo’ and applied it to the therapy scenario and it works. Slowing the tempo was one of the first discoveries I came upon in the drumming therapy evolution. Most New Age therapies like EMDR and others use rhythm to program a new concept into the patient, but the problem is not in the patient; the practitioner invariably speeds up the tempo of the treatment creating anxiety in the patient’s subconscious. Our DNA seems to be hardwired on this issue of tempo in the environment. We, as a species constantly monitor tempo in our surroundings, resulting in survival decisions that affect our behavior. If the tempo around us is fast, then we become more alert, our muscles tense, our pupils contract, our peripheral vision narrows, focusing on what is in front of us, preparing to fight or run; all based on an increasing tempo. That is why the great blues masters insisted that the tempos be ‘laid back’ so as not to intimidate the audience. There is great survival wisdom in this approach, plus it gets the girls to dance. Slowing down a tempo creates a safe space, a healing opportunity and a receptivity in the belief system of the participants. First, I just tried to get the alpha personalities to just relax a little bit, but they could not, because being fast was tied into their survival strategy, even though they knew it would result in high blood pressure and a less than adequate intimacy. So I used the tambourine on my foot, to signal to their higher intellectual functions that the tempo needed to slow down. It worked most of the time even though the patients wanted to speed up. I let the chink, chink of the tambourine coerce them into slowing down. It resulted in an amazing outpouring of psychology from the patients; as they slowed down, their system ‘dumped’ what it needed to get rid of; fear, tension, trauma history, anger, sickness, regret, on and on. As I slowed them down, they talked; never having hit a drum before. As they applied the downbeat to their own embattled psyche, they were healing themselves.

As we brought the tempo down to almost a standstill, she nodded, stating that it felt good to her, but that it ‘wasn’t quite it’. We talked some more and I decided to offer another deeper affirmation; “I am Desirable” upon hearing this suggestion, she turned a bright red and said that she could not, would not say that. “Its just words…” I explained. “Its just a drum…what have you got to lose?” She reluctantly repeated the phrase as we slowed down from sixty beats to less than twelve beats per minute. So slow that her subconscious had to pay attention. Then she wanted to play it fast, real fast. So we did. There are no rules here.

I received an email the next day from her;

“If I hadn’t been so grounded and pumped up at the same time from the drumming therapy session, I would not have said “yes” to the offer from my eighth grade boyfriend who called me up last night and asked me out. I haven’t seen him since junior high school. Apparently, I am fine, just the way I am.”

She had not been out in seven years. We were invited to their marriage. At the reception, her new husband knelt in front of her with the band backing him up. He sang, “You are so beautiful…to me.” She sat in her white gown, surrounded by her attendants, and saw us sitting at a nearby table. She tapped on her legs,  and said out loud, “I AM DESIRABLE…” She gave us a big smile and added, “…Works for me!”

They have a child and are still happily married.

excerpt: “History of the Groove, Drummer’s story” Russell Buddy Helm ©2013 all rights reserved

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